Commentary

Disciples


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Saturday, July 7, 1888.

     7.45 P.M. W. sitting by the window fanning himself. Greeted me heartily. And his health? "Oh, I am improved just this minute but I have been bad all day!" Add-

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ing, after looking in my face: "Don't feel bad about it—I don't." [See indexical note p429.1] I said to W.: "That was a mine of great treasure you gave me last night." "Do you think so? Well—so do I. Love is always a great treasure—always: these fellows have been very dear to me when I most needed adhesion. [See indexical note p429.2] They may be wrong in what they say of my book but they are not wrong in their love: love is never wrong. I never get the feeling of being bad off without getting the feeling of being well off—extra well off: for what I have missed in one thing I have gained a thousand times over in another thing. [See indexical note p429.3] Wasn't one of those letters from Dowden? O yes! Dowden: dear man—truly steadfast through the thick and thin of my darker days: I have got to sort o' look to him for good will: and there was Noel, too: Noel says he wants to be counted in always—always: and Rossetti—what can I say of Rossetti? [See indexical note p429.4] When I think of the friends I have had I forget the enemies I have made."

     Another Whitman article in The American—this one by Harrison Morris. W. said: "The young men should steer clear of me—avoid me—stay outside my pickets—that is the only safe method for them. [See indexical note p429.5] I am dangerous—they find me hard—O very hard—to handle, though I suppose they will go on with me, all the same, whatever is said, asked or unasked—trying me by this, by that—perhaps that's the only way they can finally get to know me—can learn to swim in the deep waters: by just going in and in, against all warnings, in spite of all fears—until they discover the cherished secret. [See indexical note p429.6] Tell Harrison to look out—not to venture too far—not to jeopardize his reputation fooling with Walt Whitman—tell him I warn him and I ought to know what's what: tell him to get off in time—tell him that—then say that if he is still determined upon his reckless course that I say, that Walt Whitman says, 'God be with you!'"

     W. paused for a laugh and went on in this way: "Indeed, I am a little surprised at some of my friends. Take Ken-

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nedy, for example: I am a little surprised that Kennedy is a friend of Leaves of Grass. [See indexical note p430.1] I am not surprised with Bucke or O'Connor or Mrs. Gilchrist or Burroughs—not a bit—but I will admit that I am a little surprised at Kennedy's accession. The truth is, Kennedy lays his stress—approaches me, applauds me—upon a side for which I care little myself—which I in fact despise—the intellectual side—the side of sickly self-regard—the introspective—that something or other which is more or less diseased—which has affected the literature of the last two hundred years—of which I am tired and sick to the point of death. [See indexical note p430.2] Kennedy is a Greekist—a fellow out of the college and ripe with all its canons: a good, a finely endowed nature, rich in a quality of which Kennedy himself makes little—an intuitive gift of rare significance, of uncommon grasp, which enables him to see far ahead of himself—to penetrate mysteries which defy all the assaults of logic. So I wonder over Kennedy—do not quite get him adjusted in my perspective. [See indexical note p430.3] The adhesion of Bucke, of Burroughs, of you fellows—Harned, Ingersoll—is easily explained—is thoroughly natural—is a matter of course: it is the comradeship of the total man. We know how to enjoy a meal for itself—to eat not from a sickly sense of duty but from a well sense of appetite—not because we are good or bad, pigs or gentlemen, but because we are hungry. [See indexical note p430.4] Burroughs, you see, has guts: and oh! there is so much in that—to have the grit of the body first of all—as the original guarantee of the rest. You would like John—he makes a great companion, but one you must understand. My brother Jeff said to me of his daughter: 'I love to drive out with Jessie—she is a perfect companion.' [See indexical note p430.5] I find that her virtue consists in not saying a word the whole time—in being simply observant—seeing everything, making no comment whatever. That's the sort of thing John likes: I think he dreads loquacity as much as I do."
I said Burroughs suggested coming down to see him. W. demurred. "Tell him to

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postpone it—to put it off—for the present: feeling as I do these days I could not stand the visit: my head can stand no unusual experiences. [See indexical note p431.1] Tell him I no doubt will rally—rally enough for that, anyhow,—and then we can have it out. I wonder if William and John will ever meet with me anywhere on the same spot again? I am afraid that will never happen—never happen. Tell John my mind is now such a jelly—such a seething mass—always in such strange agitation—I dare not consent to see anybody except the few who are in effect a part of this household."

     No letter from Bucke today. I get to look for Bucke as I look for my breakfast." [See indexical note p431.2] While we were talking Harned came in. W. described his experience of the day past with great particularity: his yesterday's bath, the terrible weakness that ensued, the difficulty of getting back to bed again— "then the continual mental unrest, lasting through the whole night and through all today until an hour ago, when, suddenly, I was relieved." What did all this mean to him? "I don't know what it means. Spurzheim says we cannot know mind—but is there anything surprising about that? I say so too. The wonderful phenomena of lunacy—what does that mean? Has it a physical basis? or physical entanglements? or what? It is a lesson to see Bucke's asylum at London—the hundreds on hundreds of his insane. [See indexical note p431.3] I used to wander through the wards quite freely—go everywhere—even among the boisterous patients—the very violent. But I couldn't stand it long—I finally told Doctor I could not continue to do it. I think I gave him back the key which he had entrusted to me: it became a too-near fact—too poignant—too sharply painful—too ghastly true." Said he did not agree with Bucke that his recent troubles could be assigned to vertigo. "The matter is deeper than that—Doctor will have to guess again."

     W. read no proofs today. He said while I was alone with him: "America, I said many years ago, has accomplished

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the greatest results in all things except literature—in all features of modern life except literature, which is the greatest, noblest, divinest, of all: and there she is simply an absorber, an automatic listener, with no eye, ear, arm, heart, her own. [See indexical note p432.1] If it was necessary—I hope to God it will never be necessary—she would excel all other races, states, in military glory, also, sorry as that is, sorry—O sorry—as it is. [See indexical note p432.2] Aldrich once heard of my saying this and asked: 'Does he forget Emerson? Longfellow? and others?' After these long years, not forgetting any of the eminent ones or what we owe them, I still stick to my original statement—though I look for the day when literature, too, in America, will come to its own—realize its full inheritance."

     As I left W. held my hand for a long time (his hand was very warm) and said: "What I say of my head does not accord very well with the way I have been chattering—talking—tonight—rattling away like a house afire!" I put yesterday's Noel letter in here. It is postmarked Thornton Heath, April 4, 1886, though written on the 30th of the preceding month:


My dear sir.

 [See indexical note p432.3] I have sent through my publishers a vol. of my essays on Poetry and Poets, containing an essay on your own work, reprinted with additions from our Taste some years ago—which I have been sorry not to see mentioned in the volumes of Dr. Bucke and John Burroughs—for I understood that you, and Mr. Burroughs, had approved of it and (as you know) I have long been a grateful and warm admirer. Please let me have a line, if you are well enough, as I hope may be the case, to write.

 [See indexical note p432.4] I welcome the vol. of young Mr. Rhys, and trust it will make you well known among us.

If you should come to England, I hope you will not forget that you would find a warm welcome in our house.

I hope you may have seen and cared for some of my own

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work in poetry. [See indexical note p433.1] I believe I sent you an early and immature volume, but not hearing from you did not send later and stronger work.


Ever yours with affectionate respect,

Roden Noel.


      [See indexical note p433.2] "I said to you yesterday that I was rather in than of the literary class," said W. in allusion to Noel's letter: "and the more the literary guild discuss me the more I seem outside the particular interests they chew upon with such relish. I do not refer to any one in particular but to the class. Now and then a man steps out from that crowd—says: 'I will be myself'—does, because he is, something immense. The howl that goes up is tremendous. Some step back. [See indexical note p433.3] Some stay out and go on." "You stayed out and went on!" "Well—I hope so. But the main thing is the people—the people: not how faithful I have been to the book class but how faithful I have been to the people, but for whom the book class could not exist." [See indexical note p433.4] As to Noel: "He is not the biggest man I know but his 'hello' is just as sweet to me as any other 'hello.'"


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